Saturday, 24 November 2012


I was watching old Star Trek on TV, as you do.

I noticed that rank is indicated but "pips", and the more pips, the higher the rank.

But surely in any hierarchy of control there is a limit to how far "up" one can go, but no limit to how far "down" you can go.

Surely any numbering system should have 1 (or 0) as the top, and more "pips" for those lower down....

After all, one can always have subordinates.


  1. Military ranks most certainly have a bottom limit (and dishonourable discharges), and historically have been expanded to the top only (e.g. if you wanted to bestow special honours on folk, or distinguish seniority within a rank. There's also the case where role overrides rank and to avoid the awkwardness of e.g. a captain having to defer to a (lower ranking, but higher by role) lieutenant, the lieutenants role can come with a brevet (temporary) promotion. So there's a limit how far down you can go, and there is one how far up you can go, but the top has been expanded occasionally while the bottom has not.

    More TNG ranks:

  2. That's exactly how one of the major car manufactures I've provided services grades their management employees.

  3. No there's a limit as to how low you can go just as in the regular forces. You can't be 'less' than a private.

    alternatively, if you'd prefer the geeky response....

    So when you join Star Trek (specifically TNG based on the image you used) you get a single pip and your pippage goes up from there

    The path you take is:

    Enlisted == 1 pip, dark centre
    Ensign == 1 pip, solid colour
    Lieutenant junior grade == 2 pips, 2nd one is dark centre
    Lieutenant == 2 pips solid colour
    Lieutenant commander == 3 pips, 3rd one dark centre
    Commander == 3 pips, solid colour
    Captain == 4 pips, solid colour

    pips should be gold but in some TNG episodes silver ones were used.

    From there you go to admirals

    Rear Admiral == 2 pips surrounded by a border
    Vice admiral == 3 pips with border
    Admiral == 4 pips with border.

    So there's an upper and lower limit.

    1. You also only get the pips for the Commissioned ranks, there are in theory in the Star Trek world plenty of "Crewmen" who are below Ensign.

    2. That would make them 'Enlisted' which would give them 1 pip with a dark centre

  4. If one loses a pip from one’s uniform, I would imagine that is it better to be mistaken for someone of lower rank rather than for someone of higher rank.

  5. BTW, all of the “Comment as” options that try to display a text field are non-functional on an iPad.

  6. You can equivalently start as 0 and give your limitless ranks upwards more and more pips. For example, in some cultures, the uniform of king and queen.